After months of training, not to mention time spent fundraising, five local girls in the Popeye Wrestling Club will participate in the Pre-Season National War of the Roses, a girls-only wrestling tournament held in Dayton, Ohio, Oct. 24-25.
Representing the Homer area will be Jadzia Martin, 16; McKenzie Cook, 13; Allison Wells, 13; Mina Cavasos, 12; and Saoirse Cook, 6. Traveling with them are coaches Janie Martin and Todd Cook.
Cavasos and Cook are defending Girls Alaska State Champions. Wells was a runner-up in the spring and a member of the Chapman Eagle middle school wrestling team last year. Jadzia Martin, who is coached by Chris Perk on the Homer High School Mariner wrestling team, was the Kachemak Conference Champion during the high school season, before being injured for the girls state meet last spring, according Perk. Martin also attended Western Regionals three years ago. The youngest on the Ohio-bound team, Saoirse placed fourth out of 21 wrestlers both boys and girls in the spring state tournament for Popeye.
“This is the first trip outside for many of the Homer wrestlers,” said Perk of the five traveling to the tournament.
Perk acknowledged the contributions made by Olympic wrestler Tela O’Donnell and Mariner assistant wrestling coach Bubba Wells, who are helping the girls prepare for the Ohio tournament, “and to all that have purchased raffle tickets and baked goods to help off-set the cost of the trip.”
The opportunity to attend the Ohio tournament was extended to any girl registered with USA Wrestling and a member of the Popeye Wrestling Club. They also had to help with the fundraising for the trip and attend practices.
“Any girl that wanted to go could have had their name on the list, but she had to make practices and work hard,” said Todd Cook. “They had to put in the effort.”
While there are a couple of all-girl wrestling events in Alaska, this is the first time the Popeye Wrestling Club will be represented in the pre-season tournament. Cook anticipates as many as 36 states will participate, an indication of an increased interest in girls wrestling. Another is opportunities beyond high school.
“Colleges and junior colleges are giving scholarships now that are making opportunities for the girls that want to continue (wrestling) and get an education out of it,” said Cook. “Girls wrestling has kind of saved wrestling programs in a lot of colleges because of available funding for girls’ sports programs. It kind of saved the programs at some schools that didn’t have big wrestling programs.”
A list of colleges that offer women’s wrestling programs is included on the War of the Roses National Girls Wrestling Series website.
War of the Roses Wrestling was founded by Brent Harvey. According to the event’s website, Harvey is a member of the USA Wrestling National Women’s Age Group Committee working to create and improve the sport. The series’ tournaments focus on education and training, as well as competition and free clinics. The Oct. 24-25 tournament is only one of several held between October and June 2015.
Cook sees this as an opportunity for the Popeye wrestlers to measure how serious they are about wrestling.
“I’m kind of hoping when they see all these other girls wrestling, that, if this is something they want to do, it’ll solidify that,” said Cook. “If it isn’t what they want to do, they’ll find something else they’re interested in.”
He also sees the tournament as an opportunity to give the girls and other wrestlers a boost as the wrestling season begins.
“I hope it motivates them to push to the next level,” said Cook, already seeing improvement after a summer of coaching this small group of girls mostly at a one-on-one level. “And that will motivate others and raise the skill level of the whole club.”
Based on having coached the local girls and watching videos of wrestlers that will attend the tournament, Cook said “I think our girls will be right up there with some of the best girls in their age group.”
The Popeye wrestlers going to the tournament already are looking ahead to a tournament in the spring.
“We told the girls that if they place at this tournament, we’ll seriously consider taking them down to a post-season tournament,” said Cook. “I think probably all of our girls can place. … (They’ll) be right up there with some of the best girls in their age groups.”
A little closer to home, Homer will hold its own War of the Roses Tournament on April 3, said Perk.
McKibben Jackinsky can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.